Opinion: Working with Rik Mayall, By Kevin Armento

One of Rik Mayall’s very last projects was to play a modern version of Fagin. In the months leading up to his sudden death on June 9, 2014 Mayall had been collaborating on a script with American writer Kevin Armento and Carlos Davis, writer/producer of Mayall's 1991 movie Drop Dead Fred. In the piece below Armento recalls the thrill of working with Mayall. Although he did not know Mayall’s British TV work when he first met him, he soon realised that he was in the presence of a comic genius. Immediately after Mayall’s death Armento wrote Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally inspired by their work together. The play is being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe this August (2016). The comedy is physical, the dialogue delivered at breakneck speed. Sounds like classic Mayall. 

Pictured - Armento with Mayall and Mayall's wife Barbara, taken at Rik's house in Barnes in November 2013

 

 

The first words I ever heard tumble out of Rik Mayall were "You'll have to forgive this fucking lion's mane, it's for character." 

 

He had just opened his door to us in Barnes - "us" being myself and Carlos Davis, writer and producer of Rik's cult classic Drop Dead Fred - and just as soon as he's said the lion bit, he's already bounding back inside, hair billowing behind him.

 

Carlos and I are fresh off a red eye from New York, because three weeks earlier we had sent Rik an idea for a modern take on Oliver Twist, and he had simply said, "I'm in, come out here and let's write it." 

 

It was to be his next film. Now, it's the last thing he ever wrote.

 

I met Rik and his leonine hair only eight months before he died, so I'm among the least qualified to contemplate his career or Who He Really Was in any substantial way. Carlos knew him for decades. Most people reading this probably grew up on The Young Ones and Bottom - I didn't see either until after we started working together.

 

I can only talk about those eight months - about his stunning improvisation while we were writing; about his insistence on going over scenes again and again until each joke and beat reached perfection; about our cigarette break chats about the roles he still wanted to play on stage (a battered stay-at-home husband in a reverse retro kitchen comedy, a Hannibal Lecter-like serial killer - oh man, his impression of the latter); and about the American Thanksgiving dinner his wonderful family threw for us on our second trip there.

 

Rik was to play Fagin in our Oliver Twist, naturally, but not your granddad’s Fagin. Our version was set in contemporary London, and Fagin was a phone app some hacker kids created to learn how to steal shit. Siri, for thievery. As the app grows from beta to more complex versions, Rik's character grows from voiceover to a screen-sized face to a hologram, ever more powerful and genie-like, until before you know it he's in the bowels of the Bank of England helping children rob the world's wealthiest nations.

 

I can't overemphasize Rik's contributions in the writing process. If Carlos and I had created a lump of clay of an idea in New York, after a few trips to Barnes, Rik had molded it into an intricate statue...in technicolor...probably in the shape of a woman's breasts.

 

He was obsessive about the comedy, could play every character in readings (and did), and had an incredible bullshit detector for ideas. If you were trying to fudge something structurally, he'd sniff it out and bring us back to the drawing board until we got it right.

Article continues here.

 

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